A few weeks ago, I had the precious opportunity to travel to Nashville with my daughter and another mother and daughter who are dear friends of our family. This trip was a “consolation prize” trip as the four of us were supposed to travel to London for an epic “Mother-Daughter Senior Trip” last August. Needless to say, that excursion was canceled due to COVID. In January, when Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools decided, once again, to postpone a return to school, I came home from work and found my Senior sitting in a puddle of her tears in her bedroom. The reality hit her that she had missed most of her Senior year of high school and she was never going to get it back. I just sat down and cried with her. But, in that moment, I decided she need needed something to look forward to. We both did. A quick Internet search revealed that Nashville was opening after COVID and it was the perfect location for a weekend mother-daughter outing.
Indeed, it was a magical whirlwind of sweet memory making! We flew out on Friday and went straight to the Gaylord Grand Ole Opry Hotel. We enjoyed fabulous accommodations, ate at the Food Network featured at the Peg Leg Porker, sang karaoke at the Valentine, a honky-tonk bar on their Broadway Street, watched famous headliners (including Travis Tritt and Carly Pearce) at the Grand Ole Opry, and, of course, bought gaudy cowboy boots!
But, the highlight of our trip happened Sunday on the way back to the airport. My friend had arranged for us to eat at yet another notable Nashville restaurant, Monell’s. Think Southern Baptist potluck and “spank your momma” Southern cuisine! You walk in and you are seated at large tables with other groups of people. Due to COVID, there is social distancing at the tables with space between your party and the next party. Despite the distance, you still pass bowls of food served family-style around the table. We arrived at the restaurant around 11:30 and were seated at one end of a long table. We blessed our food and immediately dug in to the first courses of the meal. With that first course still steaming, another party was seated at the opposite end of our table. We said our cordial hellos and proceeded to indulge ourselves in a fabulous feast! Most of our interaction was centered around passing the catfish, the squash casserole or the mashed potatoes, round and round until the bowls were almost empty. We finished the meal and leaned back in our chairs, groaning from our overindulgence. Suddenly, the lady across from me asked a startling question. “I hesitate to ask this, but are you ordained?” I smiled, chuckled a bit, and replied: “Actually, yes. I have a degree from Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and I was ordained several years ago.” Without missing a beat, she stated: “Well, that’s good because I have a word from God for you.” My eyes widened and my heart started to pound. “I want you to know that you have healing in your hands and God wants you to be bold. Use your gift. Stand firm.” My mouth dropped. I stammered: “That’s great to hear because I am a physician.” She smiled and said already knew that. God told her. I was stunned. Now, mind you, we had said absolutely nothing during the meal that would have hinted I was a physician. In fact, the way I was eating would not reflect regard for a healthy lifestyle at all! She went on to say that said that she did not hear these words from God often but when she did, she had to speak. She could not get up from the table without telling me what God was saying to her. She said I needed to be bold in my interactions with people and share healing, not only physically but spiritually as well. I was blown away. Then, with a sense of urgency and purpose, she turned to my friend’s daughter who is sitting a few seats down from her. She said that she also had a word from the Lord for her. “God has a plan and a purpose and a calling for you. You are going to be a household name and when you speak, others will be drawn to Jesus. You will have a great impact for the kingdom of God.” At this point, I thought my friend’s daughter was going to choke or vomit at the table. She smiled and sheepishly thanked the woman. “No, don’t thank me, thank the Lord. This word is from Him, not from me.” Then, she asked if one of us at the table was her mother. My friend, who was already in tears, raised her hand. The woman spoke directly to my friend and warned: “Yes, your daughter has a calling on her life; however, it is not yet your daughter’s time. You need to protect her. You need to guard her heart and guard her interactions with people. God needs you to protect and prepare her.” At this point, we are all dumbfounded and stunned. As she finished this last admonition, the wait staff was forcefully bussing the table as there was a huge line to get in the restaurant. I thanked her for her words of encouragement to all of us and asked if we could buy her meal. She reluctantly gave me her ticket as she offered to pray for us. Of course, we said yes. But, we decided to take the prayer outside. We waited in line through the hustle and bustle to get out of the restaurant and stepped out onto the porch. My friend’s daughter gasped as we walked out of the restaurant and saw a fountain in the front lawn. Frankly, I had not even noticed it when we walked in the restaurant. She reminded us that we had just listened to our pastor’s sermon earlier that morning while sitting on a hotel bed. The Scripture for the teaching was the story of the woman at Jacob’s well. Jesus’ words in that passage spoke of living water and about the fields being ripe for harvest. The whole teaching was so applicable to the words our new friend had spoken to us and here we were gathering around a “well.” (John 4:1-42) As we circled to pray, our new friend mentioned in passing that she understood the power of healing. You see, she had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer last year and was told she had two months to live. Yet, there she was, standing in front of us, a picture of health, and vibrant with life In the spirit of COVID safety, we stood distanced in a circle, masks on and not touching. She began to speak to her Heavenly Father as if addressing an old friend. She invited the Holy Spirit to our midst with ultimate power and conviction. It was one of those prayers that brings chills to your spine. With her first words, the wind began to blow and the rain began to pelt. The louder and the harder she prayed the more forceful the wind and the more intense the rain came. I opened my eyes to glance at my daughter. Her hands were in the air and she was smiling from ear to ear. You see, rain has been for years her sign of the Holy Spirit. In fact, she wrote one of her college essays about being a pluviophile, one who loves the rain. She has had multiple experiences on mission trips were God brought rain as an evidence of the Holy Spirit. Seeing her smile, I know that she sensed the Holy Spirit as well. I lifted at my arms and closed my eyes. And, I can tell you that my entire body weight was leaning against the wind. It was powerful. It was beautiful. It was intense. It was surreal. As our new friend concluded her prayer with a rousing Amen, the wind stopped and the rain ceased before we could even open our eyes. We stood there, speechless. When we were finally able to speak again, we exchanged contact information and walked to our cars with tears streaming down our faces.
We drove from there to the airport and, as grace would have it, immediately boarded an earlier flight so we did not even have time to sit on the concourse. Just before departure, I glanced at my phone and realized that none of the texts and exchanges of contact information with our new friend had gone through. They were all undeliverable. My daughter looked at me and asked: “Mom, what if she was an angel? What if she didn’t survive her colon cancer and God took her to heaven but she made an appearance at the restaurant with us today?” I spent the entire flight pondering the words in Hebrews 13:2:
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
Over the last few weeks, I have been unable to get that experience off my mind. And, God has used it to empower me in my interactions with patients. First, a long-time patient came in who had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor. I had seen the patient just four days before he had a witnessed seizure lying beside his wife in bed. Had she not been at his side, he may not have survived. He had no signs of any abnormality when I saw him four days before this event. As we discussed his diagnosis, prognosis, and next steps on his treatment, I felt the clear nudging of the Holy Spirit to pray for him. I have known the patient for years and never taken that opportunity. As I said that Amen and tears streamed down his face, I knew that that prayer was needed more than any chemotherapy or radiation.
Less than two days later, I felt that nudge again. A patient came in asking for disability paperwork. In general, such requests make my hair stand on end as that paperwork is less than enjoyable. I learned that in three months, this patient had lost a sister, a grandmother, and, most recently, an uncle to COVID. She admitted to no social network other than a boyfriend. Her mother had moved out of state and she was estranged from the other family members. No work friends, no community friends, no church. As the tears begin to gush, she shared that she was contemplating suicide and did not know where to turn. I asked permission to pray for her. And, I sensed the warm blanket of the Holy Spirit wrap His arms around her. Yes, we connected her with mental health professionals and appropriate medications. But what she needed most was the prayer.
Then, last Friday night, I was attending my first high school football game in a year and half. At half-time, I realized I had missed several calls and urgent texts from a cardiologist. He tracked me down to let me know the patient I had sent for a cardiac stress test (on a hunch that her complaints of reflux may be more than reflux) had significant cardiac blockages and needed urgent intervention. I rushed home to call the patient with this news and make sure she was ok. Ironically, the patient said she had been reading Proverbs and just ran across verse 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” I took that as a nudge again and asked to pray with the patient. I prayed for protection and grace until we could get her in for that cardiac intervention. It was a sweet assurance that God had her in His hands. (I am happy to say that four stents later, she is feeling well!)
So, yes, I am remembering to be bold and stand firm in the work God has called me to do:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58).
God had to show up through an angel at an all-you-can-eat country restaurant to remind me of that.
Footnote: By the time we landed in Charlotte, the text to our “angel” did go through. And, she did show up in our pictures (although her eyes were closed and she never looked at the camera). I may never see her or hear from her again this side of heaven. But, when I do see her, I owe her a big hug and thank you for reminding me to be BOLD!